Sometimes an idea for a story sneaks up on you. That’s what happened with my debut novel Intent. I was completing the final course for my MFA in Creative Writing degree when the story fanned its flames. But it didn’t start out as a novel; the screenplay was born first. In one month I had to write an entire script. It’s amazing how you can conjure up a story and complete it when there’s pressure. I knew how Intent started and how it would end, but filling in all of the details and connecting these two points was quite challenging. That one-month deadline was a blessing in disguise after all.
When you first “meet” your characters, you don’t always know them too all. For this screenwriting class, we had to do some character sketching, which enabled me to really ground my characters and get to know them even better. Here’s a snapshot of the character sketch:
CHARACTER NAME: Raylee Johnson
IMPORTANT GENERAL QUALITIES: stuck in the past, bored, conflicted
CHARACTER’S FUNCTION: Protagonist
CHARACTER’S ARC (IF ANY) OR CONVICTION (IFANY): from bored static player in a small town to a loss of faith to hope to disappointment to devastation to fighting and renewal of faith CHARACTER’S DRAMATIC ACTION: standing up to evil CHARACTER’S NEED: to find peace and regain her faith
CHARACTER’S DESIRE: someone to love
CHARACTER’S POSITIVE MOTIVATION: nostalgia (high school)
LIMIT OF CHARACTER’S SELF-KNOWLEDGE: inner strength
CHARACTER’S DOMINANT TRAIT: uncertainty CHARACTER’S DOMINANT EMOTION: regret
CRITICAL ELEMENTS OF THE CHARACTER’S HISTORY: feels like a failure in life
CHARACTER’S INTERNAL CONFLICT: seeks happiness in someone else
CHARACTER’S FLAW: self-condemnation
CHARACTER’S “GHOST” (WHAT IS MISSING): peace
CHARACTERISTICS THAT REINFORCE THE TRUE CHARACTER: ignorant of Paul’s love for her, lets her self-disappointment trump the praises of her parents, falls too easily for Billy
CHARACTERISTICS THAT MASK OR CONTRADICT THE TRUE CHARACTER: endurance
Another activity that we did to better our story was to spot the different conflicts happening in the plot and between characters or within a character. Here’s what that looked like:
- Desire: Raylee wants “Something to happen. Anything.” In other words, a better job, a sense of direction. Obstacle: Lack of self-confidence. Fear.
- Desire: Raylee’s isolation pitted against the customers. She feels lonely, desires a man. Obstacle: Introversion.
- Desire: Raylee wants to be left alone. Wants to understand why her parents died-won’t accept Paul’s reasoning. Obstacle: Paul longs to comfort and help her understand.
I think that the best kind of ideas are often those that surprise you, the ones that seem to come out of nowhere but then turn into a complex and wondrous novel that is forever dear to your heart. That’s how I feel about Intent.
Intent is currently in a reading curriculum in a California University.
Krista Wagner, a mother of three and wife of TJ, has been writing since she was seven. She started out writing songs and plays and then graduated to poetry during her teen years. In high school, she was on the staff of her literary magazine, co-authored her own zine, and began to write numerous short stories, mostly dealing with dramatic instances like murder or kidnapping.
Krista received her BA in English from UMBC in 1999, her MA in English Comp. with a Literature Concentration from CSUSB in 2008, and an MFA in Creative Writing from National University in 2013. Since 2008, Krista has been an English adjunct instructor.
For more information about Krista please visit her pages at:
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